South Africa fails on Zimbabwe, for now

The Washington Post goes after an unfamiliar target in its lead editorial today — the democratic government of South Africa. Calling President Thabo Mbeki’s policies “perverse and immoral”, it scolds South Africa for using its democracy to protect a destructive dictator:

FOR THOSE who argue that democracies are natural allies in international affairs, South Africa poses a vexing challenge. Since that country began serving a term on the U.N. Security Council last year, the government of President Thabo Mbeki has consistently allied itself with the world’s rogue states and against the Western democracies. It has defended Iran‘s nuclear program and resisted sanctions against it; shielded Sudan and Burma from the sort of pressure the United Nations once directed at the apartheid regime; and enthusiastically supported one-sided condemnations of Israel by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Now Mr. Mbeki’s perverse and immoral policy is reaching its nadir — in South Africa’s neighbor Zimbabwe. The government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is inarguably one of the world’s worst: It has wrecked the economy, triggering food shortages that have driven millions of refugees into neighboring states, and used brute force to stem what would otherwise be overwhelming opposition. On March 29, the regime staged presidential and parliamentary elections and lost both by a wide margin. Rather than concede, Mr. Mugabe has refused to release the presidential vote count, called for a recount in parliamentary districts won by the opposition and launched another violent campaign to intimidate those who voted against him.

In fact, Mugabe’s courts have blocked the release of the presidential election results in a court decision yesterday. The opposition MDC has called a general strike in protest, but that appears to have failed. The failure of the strike has prompted South Africa’s ANC to repudiate Mbeki’s strange collusion with Mugabe and call the situation “dire”:

But calls to announce the outcome won powerful backing from South Africa’s ruling African National Congress which said it must be released “without any further delay.”

Confirming an increasing breach over Zimbabwe between the ANC and South African President Thabo Mbeki, a statement by the party’s executive National Working Committee said the situation was “dire, with negative consequences” for all of southern Africa.

The Post editorial held out hope that democracy in South Africa could solve the problem of Mbeki, and that may yet happen. The president and successor to Nelson Mandela finds himself isolated even within his own party due to his support of Mugabe. He has lost a party leadership vote, and his successor has pointedly refused to endorse Mbeki’s position on Zimbabwe. The ANC committee publicly rebuked Mbeki for not taking a “neutral position” at the SADC in the crisis.

Of all nations in Africa, Mbeki’s should be the first to stand up to dictators and oppression. Its activists demanded and received worldwide support for an end to the apartheid regime that preceded South Africa’s liberation. Mbeki has squandered the moral standing of his nation to support a decaying dictator who has brought nothing but starvation and misery on his people, and who now blocks the very democracy Mandela rightly demanded and eventually won in South Africa.

Fortunately, it looks like Mbeki is mostly alone in his Mugabe worship. Maybe when he leaves, the new South African president can look at a wide range of Mbeki policies, starting but not ending with Zimbabwe.